NORMAN — There was a golden opportunity to force a three-and-out in Oklahoma’s first defensive series against Baylor. A third-and-four pass bounced off Baylor receiver Antwan Goodley’s hands just as OU safety Javon Harris drove the crown of his helmet right into his face mask.
Penalty flags flew, and everyone knew why. OU coach Bob Stoops was livid, but not at the officiating crew. It was Harris who drew his ire.
“I was just showing them Thursday in the team meeting a clip that came from the Big 12 office about targeting,” Stoops said earlier this week. “It wasn’t excessive to the point of being a suspension or anything, but should have been called but wasn’t. It was plain as day, and explained and very similar. He needs to hit him lower.”
There’s a line that defensive players are going to have to learn not to cross. Hitting vulnerable receivers and quarterbacks above the neck just isn’t tolerated anymore.
Harris has been flagged for those kinds of hits a couple times the last two seasons. He understands why they were called. It’s easy when you’re removed from it. When you’re the one making the split-second decision, it’s different.
“I know I’ve been susceptible to that rule and trying to find that medium to where I should hit someone,” Harris said. “I’ve always been a firm believer in going hard. Sometimes they count it as that type of play and sometimes they let it go as a big hit. It’s hard. Especially when coach shows us videos of the different angles. A lot of times, when you are going hard, you don’t think too much about what’s going on as far as if I should hit this guy in the legs … to me, I’m never going to aim at a guy’s face mask. I honestly didn’t think that I did on Saturday. It was the fact that I was in that position. The best thing to do is continue to play hard. You really can’t do too much about it. As long as I feel like I’m going in there wrapping up, I’m not going to slow down.”
Penalizing a hit like the one Harris delivered is the biggest evolution in football in a generation. One of the obstacles to throwing the ball all over the field has been those vicious hits by safeties and linebackers.
Concussions were treated as something that could be shaken off in 1982. In 2012, more is known about the long-term effects and actual brain trauma that’s part of a concussion.
Stoops, a safety in his playing days at Iowa in the early 1980s, is sure he suffered a few of them, and played in games he shouldn’t have.
“I don’t think everybody knew the side effects until later on, or how severe they were,” he said. “It’s like anything, you get better and improve as you go. That’s what everyone is trying to do. I think … players are catching on to the rules.”
John ShinnFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org